Sunday, November 11, 2012

How to Rightfully Blame Obama

At the risk of sounding like a full throttle Obama endorser (which I am not), I feel compelled to distill some truth from the nonsense that I often hear repeated. As we have considerable difficult decisions, and perhaps even more difficult consequences ahead, I thought it was a good time to make a decision tree.

You see, we have a country with complicated problems. That challenge is made harder by the fact that complicated solutions have been put forward to help solve these problems, followed by oversimplified arguments decrying those complicated solutions, all set amongst a populace who barely understands any of it.

For those who are quick to blame everything from the wind direction to the Honey Boo Boo phenomenon on Obama, I present the following helpful guide. It's poster sized so you can mount it on your wall:

This is not absolution of wrongdoing!

I am not suggesting that it is "correct" to do whatever Bernanke and Geithner tell you to do, I'm suggesting that it's no different from what McCain, Romney, Bush I, Bush II or any mainstream Republican would've done. The oft repeated criticism of Obama is that his economic policies are far left or even socialist in nature.

This is simply not true.

The truth is, our economic woes were caused by a reckless, unchecked investment banking industry which cultivated the problem through the Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush administrations. Presidents act on the advice of their council of economic advisers, Treasury Secretary and Fed Chairman. Those are the people who decide when we need to be alarmed, and when they give dire warnings, Presidents of both parties follow consistently.

Obama's stimulus was not the root of the problem, and you can bet your ass that any other President with the exception of Ron Paul would have printed every single dollar that Obama printed. So if you're whole political paradigm is totally based on blaming Obama, you're not being honest with yourself.

A broad view is required in order to understand what went wrong, and if you don't like the remedy that Obama has put forth so far, CONGRATULATIONS! YOU'RE PAYING ATTENTION!

But guess what?!?! Not even Obama likes the solution Obama put forward! That's the nature of a crisis! If it had a clear, indisputable, absolutely bullet-proof solution, it wouldn't be a crisis would it? You think Bush liked TARP?

You think anybody likes any of this?

Be a savvy consumer of information. Simplifying the problem by heaving it all on Obama prevents us from having the kind of national conversation we need to be having. That conversation is not about parties, personalities or conviction. It's not about birth certificates and Big Bird.

It's about having an economic system that works for us instead of the other way around.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Toddler Patriotism

"Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We freed other nations from dictators." - Mitt Romney (3rd debate)

As an American, how does this quote make you feel? Righteous? Proud? Patriotic? Take ten seconds and really ask yourself that question.

What does it MEAN to love your country? Is it blind love? Does it mean you fixate on it with grand mythological notions of perfection and a fierce resistance to any suggestion that it has ever been wrong? That's the way a toddler loves his mommy. It's 100% passion and 0% reason.

Instead of a toddlers love for mommy, consider the love between a husband and wife on their 50th wedding anniversary. How is that love different from the toddler's?

It's an informed love. It's an intentional love. It's a love wrought from a very real and very accurate understanding of who the other truly is as a person. It's seeing that person's strengths and weaknesses, virtues and vices, successes and failures - and through it all, coming away with the conclusion that you truly love this person completely and totally; not just because fate dropped you in each other's lap, but because you chose one another and cultivated that love for 50 years.

See the difference?

Now I invite you to do some reading. Google 'Salvador Allende' and 'Augusto Pinochet'. I'm not posing as a professor, but in order for my point to make sense, you have to know more than I can reasonably type in the time I devote to these little blurbs.

When you're done, google 'Somoza dynasty' and 'Contras'.

Want the Cliff note version? If you insist:

Salvador Allende was a Marxist. He was also the elected President of Chile in 1970, following free, open, completely democratic elections. The people of Chile chose him as their President through their own free will. He was ousted by a military coup in 1973, led by General Augusto Pinochet, with funds from U.S. taxpayers and logistic and military support from the CIA.

Pinochet was a dictator, installed by the United States, in defiance of the free will of the Chilean people who lived under his tyrannical rule until 1990.

I repeat: A military dictatorship, installed by the United States, in complete disregard for the sovereignty of the Chilean people and the democratic process.

The Somoza dynasty was a hereditary dictatorship that ruled Nicaragua from 1936 to 1979. They were overthrown by a revolutionary movement named after Augusto Cesar Sandino. He was a guy who fought the early Somoza dictatorship and the U.S. control of Nicaragua (by proxy) back in the 1920s.

The party that was inspired by Sandino (the Sandinistas) took control of Nicaragua by revolution in 1980. Over the next four years, while it struggled to get a functional government together, it dealt with terrorist attacks from a group that came to be known as the 'Contras' (translation of 'contra' = 'against').

Why do I call them terrorists? I've made a few posts recently about the definition of terrorism. The Contras routinely hit civilian targets for the explicit purpose of creating fear. Innocent, non-military targets were blown up and shot up. People were kidnapped, women were sexually mutilated, etc. . . .

Reagan called the Contra's "Freedom Fighters" and used stooges like Ollie North to organize the sale of American weaponry to Iran (our enemy, then and now) in order to raise funds outside the view of your elected legislators, and funnel that money to the terrorists in Nicaragua. The separation of powers installed by our founding fathers in the US Constitution was pissed on. Your voice in the form of your elected representation in the legislature was silenced. Your money was funneled to terrorists without your approval. But I digress . . .

For 4 years the Contras failed to unseat the revolutionary government. In 1984, internationally monitored, free, open and fair elections were held in Nicaragua. The Sandinista party faired well in the elections, though other parties won seats as well. It was a legitimate election.

Despite the irrefutable results of the democratic process, the Contras continued to launch terrorist attacks against the UN recognized government, with U.S. support, until 1989. Once again, the U.S. defied the will of the sovereign people of a foreign land because they elected leadership that did not favor the economic welfare of the ultra-rich in America. They tried, but they failed. Democracy has won in Nicaragua (so far), not because of America, but in spite of it.

That's enough history for now, but please consider reading up on the following terms: 'Banana wars', 'Monroe Doctrine', 'Hawaiian statehood'. See if you can identify any common foreign policy themes in your research.

How does this little trip down foreign policy memory lane make you feel? Disgusted? Ashamed? Violated? Does it make you feel anger towards me for insulting mommy? Am I guilty of treason for not professing unabashed pride in absolutely everything that my country has ever done?

How is it possible, that someone who's view of his country is seemingly so negative, can call himself a patriot? How can I claim to LOVE my country, if I am so willing to speak candidly about it's transgressions?

Well a little more history if I may. The following quote is from Senator Carl Schurz in his remarks to the Senate in 1872:

"My country; and my country is the great American Republic. My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right."

My country is not just flags and songs and baseball and fireworks and apple pie and the Super Bowl and hot dogs. My country is the product of intelligence.

The great philosophers and political thinkers like Locke, Hume, Bacon, Montesqieu and Hobbes, inspired our forefathers. They lit the fire in the minds of men like Thomas Paine, John Jay and Benjamin Franklin. These were thinking men, and they seized the opportunity presented by history to take the wisdom of those philosophers, which was just academic babbling at that point, and work them into the creed of a new nation. A Constitution was formed that reflected radical new ideas like popular sovereignty and a Bill of Rights.

This was revolutionary shit and it was FUCKING BRILLIANT!!!!!

The Republic that emerged from the rubble of the revolution and confederation was, and still is, the most remarkable piece of collective reason in modern history. This is what my country is, and I love it.

I am not a toddler.

Just as the old couple of 50 years is fully aware of one another's flaws, so too am I aware of my country's flaws. Just as that old couple knows that at many times over their marriage they have argued and done things they are not proud of, so too I am fully cognizant of the fact that my country has, on many occasions, done things I am not proud of.

And yet, as you look at that couple sitting there at that anniversary party, surrounded by children and grandchildren, they smile and hold each others hand. Each sees in the other a whole and honest composition, complete with beauty and flaws all rolled together to form one thing - a person that they love deeply and completely.

This is how I love my country. This is why I hold no punches when describing the horrible things it has done. This is why I am passionate about describing how it's power has been abused by deceptive charlatans who wave flags and thump Bibles to lull my countrymen into misguided fervor and utter complacency.

" . . . if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right."

I want my countrymen to be informed. I want them to know all the dirty little details. I want to strip away the red, white and blue veneer so we can see what's rotten underneath. This is the process of seeing what's 'wrong', so that we can proceed on to 'set right'.

This is truly elevated patriotism, and it's foundation is one of deep, meaningful love.

Now let's get back to Governor Romney's quote. Here it is again:

"Mr. President, America has not dictated to other nations. We freed other nations from dictators.

I have tried, in these few paragraphs, to give you all a few examples of American foreign policy in action over the latter half of the 20th century. I have invited you to do your own research. I've given some key phrases that you can look up without any specific links to biased sources, so you can reach your own conclusions on the topic in the privacy of your own mind, without my overbearing voice demanding that you admit anything.

Based on the information I've shared (which again, I encourage you to scrutinize) is Governor Romney's statement true?

If it is not, why is he saying it?

Does he not know? Has no one ever told him? How can he suggest himself for the office of the President if he does not know these things?

Well friends, the truth is, he knows damn well that what he said is not true. He knows damn well that we install dictators and exert the will of the economic aristocracy all over the world. He knows damn well that American taxpayers have been kept ignorant, while their tax dollars fund illegal wars. He knows damn well that our volunteer military has been confiscated by the wealthy and sent off to obscure little countries to risk their lives and limbs for commerce, all under the guise of 'freedom'.

He knows this because he IS the aristocracy. They are his investments, and the investments of his echelon, that are threatened by popular uprisings and free, fair elections in places like Nicaragua, Venezuela and Egypt. He wants to perpetuate the lie that our presence abroad is all about 'freedom and democracy' because he knows how those words make you feel.

Proud. Righteous. Patriotic. Willing to fight!

He is lying to appeal to the toddler. He does not want you to have the love of the old couple, because that is a love that sometimes puts it's foot down and says, "No!" That is a love that acknowledges what's 'wrong' and endeavors to 'set right'.

Friends, guys like Mitt Romney can't get anything done in THAT America.

He needs toddler patriots who love mommy just because it's mommy. He needs people who get teary eyed when they think of flags and songs and baseball and fireworks and apple pie and the Super Bowl and hot dogs - but otherwise don't know a damn thing about what their country does or why it does it.

He needs to know that if a leader is elected in Peru or Namibia that threatens his investments, he can start telling you tall tales about 'terror' and 'threats to our freedom', and you'll line right up to go fight! This is why he spouts this mockery of true patriotism. This is why he told you something that this evidence and much, much more, shows to be a bold lie. (please keep researching! don't take my word for it!)

I am asking you now, not to be a toddler patriot. Do not allow yourself to think of America as a beacon of righteousness that is beyond reproach. It may seem virtuous at first but it absolutely is not.

I am asking you to know the truth about how your country, which possesses all of the necessary qualities to be amazingly good, has been set wrong by those who are abusing it's will in the pursuit of money and monopolized power. You need to know these things because your willingness to address those flaws is absolutely necessary.

I am asking you to see not just the lie itself, but the ultimate motive behind the lie. See the whole construct. Think of it in historical perspective.

I am asking you to reject those who seek to keep you in the dark, and who try to dress up that ignorance as if it's something to be proud of. They do not respect you. They do not care about you. They see you as capital, over which they seek control. Fuck them.

I respect you enough to think that you SHOULD KNOW the truth, so that we can all make active, meaningful contributions to the process of setting right, that which has been made wrong.

We ARE this great American Republic. We have an obligation to ourselves, our posterity and the rest of the world, to faithfully embody everything that we truly stand for. This is patriotism and this is what I plant my flag in.

I hope you see the virtue in that, and I hope you do the same.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


A few videos from Papua New Guinea.

 Video #1 "Laitabu"

A sink hole is discovered in the newly blazed road. The Huli believe this is a place where an ancestor has been trapped by a landslide. They have a specific ritual that must be carried out in such a situation. This is necessary to free the trapped ancestor and ensure everyone's safety.

Video #2 "Coffee, Gardens and Marsupials"

My driver, Tapi, invites me into his clan's enclave to see their garden and sample some Huli hospitality. I pick some coffee, eat some vegetables I've never heard of and nearly bust my ass after slipping on slick mud.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Coffee with the Clan

Spent an interesting afternoon with Tapi's extended clan in their compound. I picked coffee from a tree (which was why Tapi brought me there...he couldn't believe I had never seen a coffee tree), then I ate something called "peet-peet" which was a lot like celery, then I chewed some sugar cane - which, as you might suspect, tasted like sugar.

It was an organic, totally communal subsistence farm that supported a clan of about 20 people. They had mounds of kau-kau, banana trees, avocado, cassava (a.k.a. taro root), pumpkins, pigs, chickens, onions and some kind of berries on a vine. 

Men, women, children, babies and elders . . . all living together. Young mothers nursed infants while the older women kept an eye on the bigger kids. Children probably 8 or 9 years old carried babies around with confidence and sure feet. Naked toddlers chased chickens.

Friends, I'm not stripping down and putting a bone through my nose (yet). I like the comforts of modern society and I am not ashamed to admit it, but this is humanity in it's natural state. We are social creatures. We form communities naturally because we derive benefit from our communities. 

Day care facilities are not natural, nursing homes are not natural, workplaces that demand a complete disconnect from our families for 8 hours a day are not natural. These things are the chains of a people that have enslaved themselves. These institutions are the products of a selfish society that claims to be free, but are we?

Do you want to drop your kids off at a day care at 6:30am on your way to work? Do you like how you feel walking out of a nursing home after visits that are never long enough to make grandma happy? Do you like being too tired to cook at the end of your work day?

Of course not. No one does. It's not normal. We never chose these things because we wanted them, they became normal because they became necessary. Our society is engineered in such a way that we must defy all conventions to avoid exchanging cash for sustenance and the nurturing of our loved ones. 

It's wrong friends. We all know it. We all feel it. We cannot call ourselves "free" if we are compelled by binding societal convention, to accept terms that feel wrong in our marrow. That is the opposite of freedom.

Again, I have no bone in my nose. I am not calling for an agrarian revolution. Here's what I am saying:

We must be intentional in the way we construct our society. There are working societal models all over the world, and while none of them may offer a direct, apples-to-apples, turn-key replacement for ours; they do offer wisdom. They offer examples and clues about how to make the connection between what feels right in our marrow and the choices we must make to get to that place.

Good soil, clean water, good crops, everyone valued, needs met, beauty, togetherness, community . . .

These are clues! This is wisdom!

We can learn something from this if we're smart. We can make our own society better if we take what works and adapt it to our circumstances. We have to try.

Anything that stops us is bullshit.

(Incidentally, I did shoot video of all of this and as soon as I have a stronger internet connection I'll post it . . . And yes, I am aware of the irony of that statement.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Oh How I'd Love to Throw a Water Balloon at Antonin Scalia!

I just read Antonin Scalia’s dissenting opinion on the Arizona illegal immigration ruling, which confirmed that yes, it is unconstitutional to demand to see someone’s proof of citizenship based on the color of their skin.

This should serve as proof (and I’m looking at you North Carolina) that when a state tries to do something unconstitutional, the Supreme Court will (or should) strike it down.

So if you get yourself confused and think that a vote on an amendment to limit civil liberty is a referendum on public opinion, you will wind up wasting your time. Therefore it’s best not to get confused. Listen to me instead.

But back to Antonin Scalia. Here’s an excerpt from his opinion:

“Arizona bears the brunt of the country's illegal immigration problem. Its citizens feel themselves under siege by large numbers of illegal immigrants who invade their property, strain their social services, and even place their lives in jeopardy. Federal officials have been unable to remedy the problem,and indeed have recently shown that they are unwilling to do so. Thousands of Arizona's estimated 400,000 illegal immigrants—including not just children but men and women under 30—are now assured immunity from en­forcement, and will be able to compete openly with Ari­zona citizens for employment.”

Well friends, it’s sad testament to the state of the legal system but it appears that Antonin Scalia - a Supreme Court Justice since the 1980s; is just as confused about the nature of law as the majority of North Carolina voters were with amendment 1.

He is making the mistake of thinking that Arizona’s law is ABOUT illegal immigration, the same way North Carolina voters thought amendment 1 was ABOUT gay marriage.

His minority opinion is therefore underpinned by his feelings about the issue of illegal immigration and NOT whether or not Arizona’s law is CONSTITUTIONAL!!!!

His dissent above is a diatribe about the evils of illegal immigration and how hard it is for Arizona and what a rotten situation it is, all of which may be 100% true, but that’s not the issue before the court.

I made the point in my first blog entry, that it does not matter what your personal feelings on gay marriage are. You can be FOR IT or you can be AGAINST IT, it is simply not relevant.

Amendment 1 was disguised as a referendum. A simple, straight talkin’, good ol’ common sense question. So people just put their pencil on that ballot based on what their opinion was. Sounds simple enough, right?


Our opinions are not supposed to be expressed by legislation just because they're our opinions, even if a majority of us share the same opinion. Laws have to pursue liberty in order to be good. If they don’t, they belong in the garbage can, regardless of how noble or holy or moral they’re dressed up to be.

Here’s another example:

Apparently the good, decent, God fearin’ folks of Middleborough, Massachusetts were asked to vote on an ordinance making it illegal to swear in public.

This should be really simple y’all.

The Constitution of the United States of America protects all speech that does not harass, threaten or incite lawlessness. This is not new. We’ve been around the block on this one, it should be cut and dry.

Well . . . a majority of the people of Middleborough got confused, and thought their vote was a simple demonstration of their opinion on the topic of profanity.

Gee, I don’t like profanity. I think profanity is bad. If I vote “no” that means I’m condoning profanity and I don’t condone profanity, therefore I vote “yes”!!! – Majority of Middleborough

Sound familiar?

Gee, I don’t like gay marriage. I think gay marriage is bad. If I vote “disagree” that means I’m condoning gay marriage and I don’t condone gay marriage, therefore I vote “agree”!!! – Majority of North Carolina

And now . . .

Gee, I don’t like illegal immigration. I think illegal immigration is bad. If I vote “strike” that means I’m condoning illegal immigration and I don’t condone illegal immigration, therefore I vote “uphold”!!! – Antonin Scalia


Fellow Americans!!!!!

Wake up!!!!!!!!

These questions are not simple referendums asking you to share your feelings.

No one . . . regardless of how strongly they oppose foul language, should support a fundamentally UN-AMERICAN law that restricts Constitutionally protected speech.

No one . . . regardless of how strongly they oppose gay marriage, should support a fundamentally UN-AMERICAN law that impedes civil liberties and disregards the Full Faith and Credit clause of the U.S. Constitution.

No one . . . regardless of how strongly they oppose illegal immigration, should support a fundamentally UN-AMERICAN law that violates the Constitutionally guaranteed right to equal protection under the law (i.e. you can’t ask brown skinned Spanish speakers to carry documents and produce them at will if you don’t require the same of white skinned English speakers).

Stop getting confused by what you think is the issue in these cases. What you think is the “big question” or the “hot topic” is absolutely 100% irrelevant!!!

The only important question you need to be asking yourself is:

‘Do I condone truth, justice and the American way?’

If the answer is “yes”, I have two things to say to you.
  1. Congratulations!
  2. You may actually have to vote in favor of something that you don’t support once in a while.

I know how hard it is to imagine doing that. It feels internally dissonant, I hear you. But it’s okay!!!!

You can continue to oppose profanity . . .

You can continue to oppose gay marriage . . .

You can continue to oppose illegal immigration . . .

You just have to make sure you’re not misusing the rule of law in the process. Oppose whatever you want, but do so within the confines of Constitutionality. If you can check that box first, by all means vote exactly as your opinion dictates. 

The same goes for you Justice Antonin Scalia!!!

“Who the heck do you think you are?!?!” Scalia shouts at his computer screen. “I’m a Supreme Court Justice! I was appointed by the President and confirmed by the legislature after a long and admirable legal career! You aren’t even a lawyer! You’re just a blogger! Who are you to lecture me on the nature of law?”

I’m nobody you fat, greasy Italian!

I’m just some dude spouting an opinion.

The difference between my opinion and yours is that mine is the MAJORITY opinion of the Supreme Court and yours AIN’T!!!!

So bite me.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Serenity Kicks My Ass

In the summer between 7th and 8th grade I worked at a glider airport. I had an aviation obsession at that time and this glider-port was about an hour's bike ride from my house, so I'd ride out there and do what they call 'line running'.

Gliders are towed into the sky by a normal airplane with a long rope. Since most gliders only have one wheel in the center of the fuselage, they can't just taxi around on the ground before takeoff. They need a line runner to snatch the rope from the tow plane, attach it to the glider's nose and then hold the glider's wing tip level as both aircraft line up on the runway. Then when the tow plane throttles up, the line runner runs alongside the glider, still holding the wing, until the glider is going fast enough for the wings to do their job and allow the pilot to start flying.

I didn't get paid. I got discounted gliding lessons . . . which was illegal, but whatever, I didn't care.

My instructor was a guy named Rusty.

On the day of my first lesson he taught me how to do a 'walk around', which is your basic pre-flight check. As we walked around and he explained how to check the various rivets and surfaces I noticed something odd. It was a little piece of red yarn taped to the top of the domed cockpit glass. I thought it was a good luck charm. Rusty explained it.

"That's the yaw string" he said. "It's one of the most important pieces of equipment that a glider pilot has. If you don't pay attention to it you'll come up short and not make it back to the field."

The idea is simple.

As the glider flies along, that little string points in the direction of the airflow. If the pilot looks up and sees the string wiggling in a tight line, completely parallel with the center of the fuselage, he knows he's flying straight and therefore getting maximum efficiency out of the wings and tail. If he looks up and sees the string swinging off center, he knows he's slogging sideways through the air, or 'yawing', which means less lift, more drag, loss of speed, loss of altitude and much greater chance of crashing.

Since there is no engine in a glider, it's really important that you be efficient. The little piece of yarn has yet to be improved upon. Low tech and extremely effective.


Last night I was supposed to do cardio. I usually hit the treadmill.

Unfortunately I went into the gym at my usual time and found all but one of the treadmills occupied by people who had just started. The only remaining treadmill was the miserable old broken one whose belt slips forward on the roller every five steps or so and threatens to toss you onto the concrete where your neck surely breaks.

Dammit . . .

So instead I went back to my room in a huff. You see, it's hard to be me.

Once there I flipped open my trusty iPad and tapped a yoga app that I downloaded before headed overseas. I have very little knowledge of yoga, but I had anticipated this disrupted exercise scenario and made the contingency plan. Yoga looks so peaceful and serene, it's probably exactly what a spoiled, grumpy treadmill person needs when denied his routine.

I soon learned the truth about yoga. It will kick your ass.

The app is basically a series of videos where this lady does yoga out on a beach somewhere and a voice over talks you through all the poses.

"We begin with this simple 'child's pose', move gently into 'plank', now inhale into 'downward dog' with shoulders away from the ears, back straight, tailbone to the sky, and exhale . . . Then we inhale back into 'plank', knees down, chest down, palms up into 'chatarunga'. Head up into 'cobra' and exhale. Back to the feet now, knees up and inhale into 'downward dog'. The breath moves the body . . ."

According to this sadistic bitch, that was supposed to be three breaths. Well I had taken about fifty breaths at that point and was beginning to sweat. Mind you I have been doing cardio just about every other day for quite a few weeks now so this wasn't pure 'out-of-shapedness'. I'm not saying I'm ready for a triathlon, but I should be able to handle two minutes of what looks like barely moving without getting winded. Not the case.


I released the cord at about 5000 feet. The Piper that had been towing us banked off to the left as Rusty banked us right. Then he gave me the controls.

I was immediately taken by how loose and buoyant it felt compared to a powered airplane. You barely had to move the stick or rudder for the aircraft to respond with a wobble or a dip. It was almost like it was reading your mind.

We banked and turned a few times as he explained the manner in which thrust and lift overcome drag and gravity, then he went into the names of the approaches - downwind, base, final. He congratulated me on my smooth turns and my hand-foot coordination, then he pointed out a gap on the horizon in the distance.

"You see that notch between those hills? Just point the nose of the aircraft toward that notch and try to keep your airspeed between the two dashes on the airspeed indicator . . . watch that yaw string and keep it lined up parallel."

As well as I had done with banking and turning, I found the simple act of flying in a straight line incredibly challenging. When the string was straight I went too fast, when I corrected my speed, the string went off center. Rusty had to take the controls a few times because I was nearly causing us to stall. Those few minutes kind of sucked the fun out of the lesson. I was so fixated on the string, that I couldn't really enjoy the rest of what was going on.

"It's fairly typical" Rusty assured me. "Of all the maneuvers and skill required to take off, land and recover from stalls, the one thing that gives us fits is simple, straight and level flight. If you're trying, you're probably failing."

Here is this carbon fiber gliding thing that looks like a giant, white albatross. It can grab hold of a thermal updraft and just float around for hours in complete silence. It looks graceful and effortless, just like yoga.


At the end of the session the lady on the beach sits crossed legged with her hands on her knees for a minute, then she straightens out and lays down on her back.

"And this is 'shivassna' or 'corpse pose', the final pose of the lesson"

An aptly named pose because I feel just about dead at this point.

"Our feet are pointed to the sides, our palms are up and we breathe the 'ujayi' breath. We take in energy with the inhale and with the exhale we release anything we've been holding in our consciousness that we no longer need. Our minds are clear."

I don't know if you've ever tried to make your mind blank, but just like yoga and just like flying straight and level, it's not easy.

In this instance however, after having just embarrassed myself by taking a 20 minute ass-whooping from an activity that I had previously considered 'almost' exercise, it was far easier than I expected. The relief of not holding a pose and not paying attention to anything gave me a brief moment of nothing. My mind was blank for the first time that I can remember. It was quick, but it was stark.

I wondered,

'Do people who are good at yoga know how to get to that place whenever they want?'

I'm sure the lady on the beach can transition from 'cobra' to 'downward dog' to 'chatarunga' in three slow breaths and I'm sure Rusty can glide for hours with his yaw string wiggling right down the center of the canopy glass.

Yoga and gliding are indeed serene, graceful and effortless - provided you can get to a point where you no longer have to try.

So many of our goals in life are directly dependent on the amount of concerted effort we apply. We gear ourselves to strive for things and exert energy with singular focus. But then, every once in a while we are presented with a challenge that requires us to stop trying and allow our selves to give in and let something passive occur.

Suddenly our disciplined approach doesn't work. We try to point the nose of the glider toward the notch in the hills and attack the challenge like we're lifting weights or running up an incline. The result is an aircraft that does everything except fly straight toward the notch. We look like fools.

For me, the challenge of lifting actual heavy weight off my chest is nothing compared to the challenge of clearing my mind. The aforementioned is analogous to everything I've ever tried to do in life, but the latter is something new and mysterious.

My little glimpse into the serenity of a clear mind has given me a new appreciation for people who have the capacity to achieve it without trying. I can see the value of knowing how to get there.

I wish I was better at it.

I'm gonna try.

 . . . No, wait. I'm not gonna try.

See? It kicks your ass!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Single most important variable

As those of you who read my little blog know (thanks by the way), I tend to notice little things and then pan them out to a universal scale and start prattling about big, heady universal truth shit. I also lean a bit toward the cynical side.

This can get tiring for both of us.

I want to talk about something else. . .

A few minutes ago I saw a picture of my youngest daughter when she was about 4 years old (she's now 12). This is it.

Last time I was coming home from the jungle I was in the domestic terminal at LAX and this little girl and her mom sat down across from me. Right as they got settled and put down their snacks, the mom jumped up,

"I left my purse at the counter! Wait here!"

So the little girl did.

As mom dashed off, the kid grabbed one of those cups with fruit and yogurt and a little built-in container of granola out of the snack bag. She was waiting for her mom to get back, but she wasn't waiting to get started on the yogurt.

She was probably a year older than that kid in the picture up there and the cup was kind of big in her hand. She wielded it with far more determination than dexterity and it took every ounce of restraint not to offer to open it for her. 

I know that I am a man. 

An adult. 

A stranger. 

. . . so I just sat there.

She managed to get the top lid off - the one that's like a drink lid. Then came the big challenge. The recessed granola packet, with it's impossibly thin plastic lip, compression fitted into the yogurt cup like it was installed by a plumber. She went right to it; trying desperately to get a working grip on that little edge and struggling mightily.

I looked toward the snack bar area where mom had dashed off to find her purse. I was hoping she would make it in time.

It was killing me. Mom was nowhere in sight.

Eventually she got a little fingernail under that granola lid while holding the entire yogurt composition sideways. I saw 5 seconds into the future. That moment when she overcame the friction that held the granola cup in place and it popped free, ejecting granola all over her shirt and the floor . . .

"Careful!" I said, in my most convincing Mr. Rogers. 

I couldn't help myself. 

"It'll pop out all at once and spill all over."

She looked at me and nodded,

"Oh yeah."

There was this twenty-something Asian Emo girl sitting adjacent to us listening to her ipod. I don't know if she heard the actual exchange, but she saw me talking to the little girl and she shot me a dirty look to let me know I was being observed.

Adult male, traveling alone . . . naturally, I'm a predator.

Shortly thereafter, the little girl managed to get the granola cup free from the rest of the yogurt. It did indeed pop out at the last second, but it was more of a controlled event. A few nuggets of granola were lost, but nothing major. As soon as it was free she smiled at me,

"I almost spilled it!"

"You did really well!" I replied.

Another dirty look from Ms. Emo. Whatever bitch. What are you listening to? Some "punk rock" song about teenage love? Ever heard of the Minutemen? Black Flag? . . . Fuck you.

She poured the granola into the yogurt and fruit, then observed the thin layer of yogurt that clung to the bottom of the cup. I could see her mentally wrestle with the question of whether or not it would be okay to lick the underside of the granola cup right there in the middle of the concourse. 

She wanted to.

Ultimately however, after a quick pan around she opted against it and placed the yogurt smeared cup on a napkin.

"Sometimes I forget to put it on a napkin" she admitted.

"Yeah, me too."

Then mom re-appreared in a flustered jumble. She had found her purse, thank God, but now she had to rifle through it to make sure no one stole anything. She was focused.

"Mommy can I have my orange juice?"

The mom did not slow down or look up.


"But I'm thirsty."

"Well, then you shouldn't have gotten that yogurt. The orange juice is for when you get thirsty on the plane."

My input was no longer in any way appropriate. Even the most benevolent degree of surrogate parenting from a stranger is completely wrong when the actual parent is present. I wanted to say,

"Hey lady, no one would have stolen items from your purse and then left it on the counter, they would've just snatched it. You left your purse and it was still there when you went back, chalk it up as a win. And by the way, there will be plenty of orange juice on that plane. She's thirsty now, so how about a little orange juice, huh?"

Not only would it have been inappropriate, but I didn't quite feel justified.

Her tone of voice, her posture, her disconnection and her focus on something ultimately insignificant when compared to the little gem sitting there with a lap full of well earned yogurt, was all too familiar.

You see that picture up there?

I was not there that day. It was taken at the Japanese garden at the arboretum and I don't need a 360 degree panoramic shot to know that I was not there.

In the old home videos that I found last month where both of my little treasures giggled and mugged and made little jokes - I was not in most of them. Not holding the camera and not in the background.

I was at work or I was asleep or I just wasn't there because of some other distraction. I probably relished the opportunity to do something else - something forgettable.

So I couldn't judge that lady. I knew where she was in that moment. She was at the airport, traveling with a kid, managing their belongings, narrowly avoiding the loss of her purse, double and triple checking everything.

I got it. I understood.

But from where I sat it made my heart ache. That little sliver of pride I felt for that random little girl, just because she overcame the precision engineering of a yogurt cup, made me contemplate all of the little accomplishments that I missed or didn't notice because my head was not in it.

Now I see that little kid in the picture up there. Her jeans are kind of short because kids grow out of things. They grow while you're not looking. They grow while you're not thinking.

I see that kid in the picture and I just melt.

I know the blog is called "The Calm Voice of Rage" and I think that represents me about as well as any 5 word phrase can, but if there's anything in the world that effortlessly vanquishes my most envenomated bouts of cynicism - it's children.

Loving our children is the most important thing any of us will ever do.

I hate how cliche it sounds, but honestly, if we succeed at everything else and fail to love our children, we accomplish absolutely nothing. If we fail at every endeavor, excepting the one to release kind, decent, thoughtful people who know they're loved into the world, we can die fulfilled.

In the battle of good over evil it is the single most important variable.

I can't go back and recapture every moment of yogurt victory and I can't rewrite every mistake I made as a young dad. All I can do is forge ahead, embrace the fantastic young women in my life and try not to be distracted by my metaphorical purse. 

It is my admittedly trite and sanctimonious recommendation that all parents, old and new,  do the same.